Nostrum sets up shop with ambition to use supercomputers to speed drug discovery

(By Juan Manuel Monleón Antón (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Nostrum BioDiscovery has spun out of a pair of Spanish research institutions with ambitions to use supercomputer-powered computational simulations to improve drug discovery. And the startup has picked up seed funding to advance technology it sees as lowering the cost of early-stage research.

A slew of startups have set out with similar aspirations over the years, but on the surface Nostrum has characteristics that set it apart. One factor in its favor is the scene from which it has emerged. The startup lists the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center - National Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS) as its parents.

BSC-CNS owns MareNostrum, a supercomputer that as of June was ranked as the 106th most powerful in the world. And IRB Barcelona is a notable player in the European biomedical research scene. The Botín Foundation is providing Nostrum with $555,000 to help it get up and running.

While Nostrum could have parlayed this background up into big claims about its ability to overhaul drug discovery, the Spanish startup has taken a lower key approach than some of its Silicon Valley peers in presenting itself to the world.

“Computational simulation cannot perform miracles,” Nostrum President Modesto Orozco said in a statement. Orozco, a researcher at IRB Barcelona, sees Nostrum as being more in the business of incremental gains than full-scale revolution. “It can significantly reduce the drug development process by increasing therapeutic strength, which has a positive effect on the entire development process,” Orozco said.

Nostrum has released figures to indicate the sort of savings it thinks it can enable. Assuming an early development budget of $330 million, Nostrum thinks it can realize savings of $55 million, a big claim but one that acknowledges that drug research will remain a costly slog even with its technology.

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